I admit I read with interest all the publications about mobile social networks (Mo So Sos, Mobile Social Software) because they are the field where this kind of systems will gain popularity in. Even here, in Alianzo, we have created a little prototype that, for now, we keep in the fridge. I believe in mobile social networks as much as I believe that they still need a couple of years to pop.
Soon, blogging anywhere, sharing pics we take with our mobiles straight away or geolocalising all the places we go through during the day will be easy tasks. But not yet. Why? Next, I’ll put forwards a number of reasons, some of them included recently in Corante by Danah Boyd🙂
Mobile operators exercise a real monopoly (here in Spain we rather say trypoly) and pose all kinds of obstacles to any service that uses their networks but not under their control. For example, it’s practically impossible to create a system to publish a blog from a mobile phone without going through the operator’s SMS or MMS services and paying the corresponding prices.
Terminals don’t count on any standard and Java is extremely problematic in the majority of mobile phones, which means that any development company that wants to do something innovative won’t have it easy. Java is alright for games (with some objections) but it’s exceedingly slow when dealing with anything that’s connected to the Internet. Ajax for mobile phones would be a great step forwards, but it still is sci-fi.
Prices are very high. Using SMS puts the prices of any service high up. So, if we include a GSM localization system, prices become exorbitant. Besides, mobile phone rates are so prohibitive that they deter users from playing with their phones in order to include new applications. Most users, just in case they get a nasty surprise, prefer not to touch their phones.
But we still have some reasons to be optimistic:
– The appearance of wi-fi has made many operators realise for the first time that the current situation won’t last long. The development of dual wifi-GSM terminals represents freedom for the users, who could then choose alternatives via the Internet.
– The installation of GPS in PDAs, which is starting to happen now, will cut the price of localising users, one of the greatest advantages of mobile social networks.
– The success achieved by blackberries has generated, for the first time, networks of users who share the same terminals and, therefore, could do something else than just talking on their phones.
– In the USA there is already a terminal that includes the facilities needed to have access to a social network: MySpace. It is Helio, which has a major objection: it costs 300 dollars.
– Bubble 2.0 is going to force mobile operators to increase their investments in order to attract users towards their services. In the 1999 bubble this mobilised operators to give SMS away (for example, Navegalia). Now they may start giving away UMTS terminals with social network applications practically for free. But, as time goes by, they’ll also start to charge for them.